(Sports Network) For the second time in three years the Wildcats have begun a season with three straight wins, and now Northwestern will look to make it four in a row this Saturday when the Central Michigan Chippewas invade Ryan Field.
The reigning Mid-American Conference champions are coming off their best offensive performance of the season, as they clobbered league foe Eastern Michigan, 52-14. It was the second win on the season for coach Dan Enos' squad, which opened the year with a convincing, 33-0 decision over Hampton.
As for the Wildcats, they pounded Rice this past weekend by a 30-13 margin, giving them six consecutive regular season victories dating back to last year. It was also the team's fourth straight road win, which is the longest streak for Northwestern since 1995.
This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools on the gridiron, but the Wildcats are no strangers to the MAC, posting a 15-8-1 all-time ledger against schools from that conference, and that includes their current eight- game winning streak against the MAC.
The Chippewas put forth their best offensive performance of this young season against Eastern Michigan last Saturday, punishing the Eagles for 523 total yards.
The ground game pulverized EMU to the tune of 269 yards and the majority of the damage was caused by Paris Cotton's 209-yard and three touchdown performance. Ryan Radcliff also had his best day as a starter at CMU, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-23 efficiency.
It was clearly Cotton and Radcliff's best showing to date, as the tailback comes into this matchup with 343 yards and five scores on the season. As for Radcliff, he is replacing a legend at CMU in Dan LeFevour, but thus far the pressure has not bothered the young gunslinger, who has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 795 yards and three scores. Cody Wilson has been his main target on the year, as the wideout has hauled in 14 receptions for 300 yards and two scores.
While the offense is starting to hit its stride, the defense has been on top of its game since day one and is currently holding the opposition to an anemic 9.0 ppg.
This unit has done a terrific job against the run, holding teams to a meager 79.7 ypg on an equally impressive 2.3 yards per attempt. The success against the run continued in the team's win over Eastern Michigan, as CMU held the Eagles to just 76 yards.
Central Michigan did allow 282 yards through the air however, but that is more likely because the Chippewas had such a large lead and the Eagles were trying to play catch up. On the year, Central Michigan is limiting the opposition to just 171.0 ypg through the air. The team only has one interception, but has provided pressure, sacking the quarterback eight times.
Undefeated is a great place to be in the early stages of the season, and a huge reason for Northwestern's early success is the play of quarterback Dan Persa.
The junior quarterback, who is taking over for Mike Kafka, has been one of the top signal callers in the nation, completing an amazing 81.6 percent of his passes. Persa has thrown for 769 yards and six touchdowns and has yet to toss an interception.
Persa has the luxury of playing with two dangerous weapons in Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert. Dunsmore is leading the team with 13 receptions and three touchdowns, while Ebert has been the deep option, averaging 20.7 yards per catch.
Persa was practically flawless against Rice, throwing for 307 yards and one touchdown on 24-of-32 efficiency. Dunsmore led the way with six receptions and 87 yards, while Ebert hauled in the touchdown pass and finished the game with 82 yards on four catches.
Persa also scored on the ground, but the rushing attack was led by Arby Fields, who finished with 55 yards and now has a team-best 144 rushing yards.
All the attention on the season has focused on the play of Persa and the offense, but the defense for Northwestern is quietly putting together a solid campaign.
After three games this unit is holding team's to just 12.3 ypg. A big reason for the success is because of the big plays this defense continues to make, recording nine turnovers, six of which have been interceptions.
The interceptions have played a huge role thus far, because it has taken away from the fact that Northwestern is surrendered 234.0 yards per matchup through the air.
Two of those interceptions came this past weekend against Rice, and one was returned for a touchdown by Quentin Davie. Davie, who finished with 10 tackles in the victory, already has three interceptions, and is also leading the team with 20 stops.
The Chippewas have been tenacious defensively, but this will clearly be the unit's toughest task to date. Central Michigan is a strong team and should put forth a solid effort, but Persa and the Wildcats seem to be playing on another level right now and should remain in the win column.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 31, Central Michigan 10